POST WAR AUSTRALIA - OPINION POLLS
Robert Gordon Menzies
Finally, if the
democratic politician is really to understand the importance of his art
and practice it, he must be a leader. It is still as true as it was when
Edmund Burke said it, that a Member of Parliament is not a delegate but
a representative, bound to bring not merely his vote but his judgment to
the service of his people. Just as a democracy cannot be preserved in
war without a great and prevailing physical courage, so it cannot be
wisely governed and preserved in peace without moral courage.
All of us who are in
politics are disposed to be nervous about current opinion in the
electorate. This nervousness is, so to speak, our occupational disease.
We therefore need to remind ourselves frequently that we who are in
Congress or Parliament are expected to know more about political issues
than private citizens. We have greater opportunities of study, more
authoritative sources of information, a better chance of hearing and
considering both sides. We owe our constituents guidance. We are not
bound to spend out days, like the gentleman in the old bromide,
“sitting on a fence with both ears to the ground”.
I will say that the art
of politics is not that of devising ways and means of securing the
overthrow of informed judgment by hasty and misinformed opinion, of
considered policy by sudden mass emotion. The regiments of politics
cannot, with safety to the state, be led from behind.
Many of us, with
sincere respect for the carefulness and accuracy of such poll- takers as
Dr Gallup, are anxious about the effect which this new technique will
have upon the practice of politics. If it serves to tell the politician
of widely entertained errors which he must attack, well and good. But if
it merely tells him to beware, because opinion is against him, many good
ideas will, I fear, be abandoned and Gilbert’s Duke of Plaza Toro may
yet be a President or Prime Minister.
From “The Art of
Politics”, New York Times,
28 November 1948.
Menzies had been in the
US throughout the election campaign at which President Truman’s win
upset the tipsters who had stopped polling two weeks out from polling
day and thereby missed the swing back to the Democrat.